VATICAN CITY — Belgium’s Senate voted on a bill Dec. 13 to approve legislation that extends its euthanasia law to children.
The bill seeks to allow children to ask for euthanasia if their illness is terminal, they are in great pain and there is no available treatment. They must also have their parents’ permission, and a psychologist must also attest to the patient’s maturity. According to The New York Times, in order to become law, this must be voted on by the Parliament’s lower house, called the Chamber of Representatives, which is expected to vote on the matter before elections in May.
Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002.
Some say the bill is likely to be approved when it is voted upon in the lower house. Catholic bishops and other religious leaders in Belgium have strongly opposed the legislation. Msgr. Renzo Pegoraro, chancellor at the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican’s research institute on bioethics, recently shared his deep concerns about the bill to euthanize children with the Register in Rome.
What is the Pontifical Academy for Life’s view on this?
At the Academy for Life, we’re very sad and disappointed about this legislative proposal. The possibility of euthanasia for children hasn’t yet passed the final step of the legislative process in Belgium, so we hope the process will be stopped; because we would like to see the possibility of more public discussion.
People need to try to understand this process and the very dangerous consequences of applying euthanasia to minors, when children are very strongly influenced by the psychological and physical effects of a disease and illness. We ask: Why is it not possible to provide very good palliative care instead?
How can this be allowed when children usually have a low pain threshold and are much less able to make informed decisions?
A child is a child and so is not at full maturity and with the capacity to understand and handle such a crucial decision. Otherwise, there’s no separation between a minor and an adult. There is a general universal acknowledgement that children are more vulnerable and fragile and need a supplement of support, help and care. So we don’t understand why there is this willingness to manage a person’s capacity and liberty by losing this idea of the protection, defense, respect and intrinsic value of life, particularly of children.
On one side, we can recognize limits and the need to accept the dying process, but it is impossible to understand why there is a need to anticipate, provoke and cause the death of a minor [or anyone, as the Church teaches: Catechism, 2280-2283].
Is it a misconception, a perversion, of mercy and compassion?
It is; it is a misunderstanding, confusion and perversion of the idea of mercy. Mercy is offered through very good palliative care, to control pain, to control suffering. It is necessary to offer very good support to the child, but also a high level of support to the parents — to give them psychological, spiritual support, to help them stay together in this process.
It is strange and difficult to understand why, when parents are suffering because their child is dying, then [they decide] to give added consent to anticipate his death and to kill him.
Generally, parents are fighting too much to preserve a child’s life, and it’s a difficult process to accept. But to … give consent to be killed is very difficult to understand.
Would you say a lot of this mindset is linked to 50 years of legalized abortion — that it has now become so accepted to kill an unborn child that to kill a born child is just one side of the same coin?
Of course, there are elements, facts, coming through society and cultural changes in the last 20 years — the anti-life culture that John Paul II mentioned 20 years ago. And so this is trying to control and manipulate life, to decide on what a “good quality” of life is at the beginning and the end of life — and therefore missing the real intrinsic dignity and respect of human life.
So, particularly in Belgium, which took the decision 10 years ago to legalize euthanasia, there was risk of a slippery slope, and this has now become a concrete reality. There was a fear of this process, and, today, we have the situation that started with adult euthanasia, and, now, we have the threat of it being applied to children.
Currently, there’s a discussion about extending it to people with mental-health problems, disabled people. So there’s a risk that, step by step, pressure of society would be applied to people who have a problem to ask for euthanasia, subverting the idea that every human life is precious, respectful and guaranteed, and not to anticipate the death of a human being.
What do you say to reports that three-quarters of Belgium people support this law?
There are two things to say about this. One is: How was this survey carried out? Second, which is very important, is: What is the level of secularization in Belgium? Why are there these attitudes, behaviors and feelings in the Belgian population?
Perhaps there is this misunderstanding of the concept of mercy, the idea of freedom, in which way to use medicine. Perhaps it is not only to protect life and to offer good palliative care and medicine that is powerful, but also the willingness to provoke death and kill on grounds of “mercy.” So probably there are some social and cultural elements in Belgian society that are very problematic.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.